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Moscow Autumn Tourism Industry Week: The Business of National Branding in Russia
September 23, 2011 14:20


One of the principal events during the Moscow Autumn Tourism Industry Week was undoubtedly its conference on 22 September, 2011, dedicated to territorial branding. The term "national branding" (or, "place branding") coined by the Western analysts and Tourism Industry specialists has recently been widely used in the wake of the industry development in Russia.

Being the youngest among other Russian industries, Tourism currently accounts for 2.5% of the national GDP. Due to a range of factors, Russian Tourism has not been a priority for financing, development, and marketing, unlike other industries. As a result, it was only this year that the Federal program of inner tourism development has been adopted. And while, according to UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation), Russia is one of the most attractive global tourist destinations (rank #59), the country has a long way to go to adapt to international standards in transportation, hospitality, services, and entertainment for tourists.

Various "branding" strategies have so far most successfully been used in St. Petersburg. Close to the West and the latest developments in Tourism Industry abroad, the city authorities have gone many extra miles, to up the potential of Russia's second capital as a tourist destination. The city's priorities are clear: they focus on developing the range of excursions, business facilities, cruises, sanatoriums and resorts in the region. Sergei Korneev, the Vice-President of the Russian Tourism Industry Union, underlined the necessity to develop an events calendar, to find opportunities to attract tourists in low season; and the way the Internet augments Tourism and the experiences of visiting a country or a city.

The plan is to make St. Petersburg a regional product of a global level. This kind of conceptual solution for place branding is suggested as a blueprint for other cities and regions to follow. Just as everyone loves visiting quaint ethno-villages in Europe or Canada, so can everyone enjoy the best of ethnic culture Russia has to offer. Additionally, a web portal that does not belong to either local, regional or federal government is a great opportunity to bring together commercial and non-commercial offers for businesses and individuals.

There is still a way to go to garner better results; however, St. Petersburg is already far ahead of Moscow in terms of accommodating the needs of visitors, especially those who come from abroad. The authorities of the actual capital of Russia admit that their main problem is the lack of concept for advertising. Clearly, there must be a more or less concrete, unique strategy of brand marketing for the whole of Russia, for "Moscow" brand to succeed. But even on a local level it is hard to understand, exactly what sort of image of Moscow is to advertise to visitors. Following the 1990s, Moscow needs more of re-branding than mere promotion, in which case one has to find a new "Moscow" brand. What advantages would, or should, this advertising image have? There is no answer as yet; and in the meantime Moscow has to sit on the defensive line, shrugging off the myths about the city and Russia accumulated over the decades, if not centuries.

The advantages of developing Tourism Industry are clear. Tourism accounts for 4-5% of the global GDP; the industry also supplies 12% of workplaces. In the last 70 years the numbers of tourists have grown dramatically, from 50mln in 1950 to 1bln in 2010. The projected number of tourists for the year 2020 is 1.6bln. Tourism offers an instant ROI (Return-on-Investment), while the revenues help to influence the dynamics in the underdeveloped locales. Tourism also plays a pivotal role in:

  • protecting national heritage;
  • developing the above;
  • facilitating international and intercultural dialogue;
  • ensuring peace;
  • and opening new opportunities for investment.

Speaking of Russia as a whole, national branding here runs into many a problem, starting with politics and bureaucracy (which may be a global issue), through cultural to language differences. It is hard to get people to learn Russian at the rate everybody learns English these days. This means, however, that the process of incorporating Russia into the global context takes longer.

Although the needs of everyone involved may beg for a sweeping change in the Industry standards, including branding, it is clear that incremental changes so far offer the best opportunities for turning the tide towards a better tourist image of Russia. The Republic of Tatarstan, for instance, is quoted as one of the best developed regional brands. Combining the East and the West, Islam and Orthodox traditions, Tatarstan comes across as a country that miraculously found a solution to the problem of intercultural dialogue of Eastern and Western civilizations. Veliky Ustyug has become massively popular as the place where Ded Moroz (the Russian Santa Claus) lives. There are already the Golden Ring and the Silver Ring, and more "rings" and "ways" are in the pipeline. All these projects serve the same goal: to connect different cities in the same region by adapting the infrastructure to the tourists' needs.

Russian civilization is unique precisely due to its complexity, its multicultural, multinational heritage. Yet it is important to remember - and this may be something Russian Tourism professionals still have to grasp - that ethnic heritage in itself is nothing more than a country's peculiarity. As such, it cannot bring any dividends or attract any business. However, put in a broader cultural context, it can be sellable. Be it ethnic villages, adventure sports opporunities, or unique tourist experiences, Russia is as good at it as any other country.

Julie Delvaux


Author: Julia Shuvalova

Tags: Russian tourism Moscow events    

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